If it weren’t for the recent survey conducted by Pulse Asia—which validated what we already know, that the President had become even more unpopular—I doubt whether many would give the President’s State-of-the-Nation Address today even cursory attention.
We all knew that the President’s State-of-the-Nation Address was going to happen around this time. But really - aside from those who lust for the opportunity to point out the million and one things that are wrong with this administration and this country—who, in this country, needs to be reminded of our sorry state? We’re not a country of masochists, that’s for sure; but then, neither are we big on collective responsibility.
Nah, we prefer to heap the blame somewhere else for our failures and our suffering. Malacañang is the logical and natural target. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is not only the most unpopular president this country has ever had, she is also the most demonized leader. Sometimes it strikes me that demonizing her has become the extent of her punishment. She is unbelievably scraping the bottom in terms of popularity ratings, but people don’t seem to want to kick her out of office still.
God knows there’s more than enough reason for us to do that. This administration has been granted more than enough opportunities to redeem itself, to finally do what is right. And it has royally squandered all of them.
In better times, the Sona would be a great opportunity for the leader of the country to display one of the most important roles of a leader, which is stewardship.
It should be an occasion to provide direction and inspiration, to map out a course of action that everyone can use as some kind of a beacon in these difficult times. Instead, the Sona has become nothing more than an occasion for justification—the rebuttal of the defense panel in a metaphorical courtroom which just happens to be composed of a very partial jury.
There’s very little that the President can say now to stem the rising tide of dissatisfaction and apathy toward her and her administration. Unveiling flowery rhetoric and spewing technical gobbledygook would be tantamount to talking above people’s heads. These are times that require more than just political rhetoric or empty promises. The results of the Pulse Asia survey tell us this: 40 percent of Filipinos think the President won’t be truthful, up by 20 percent over last year. What we have is a crisis in credibility, one which requires drastic actions, not words.
However, there are some assurances that the President can make that would make impact on the people.
First, that this particular Sona will be her second to the last, that she will absolutely and certainly not seek to continue her term beyond 2010. There is lingering concern that the President nurtures the burning desire to remain as president forever. The writing on the wall is clear on this one: People don’t want to see her in office after 2010. She should heed this.
Second, that she will do everything in her power to alleviate the sufferings caused by runaway prices of oil and commodities including canceling the value-added taxes levied on oil—the shortfall in revenue collections to be sourced elsewhere such as luxury goods and from serious efforts to cut excessive government spending. She can crow about the benefits derived from her various travels abroad, but there’s no point in attracting foreign investments if the infrastructure within the country is unable to retain these investments to begin with. So it is better to simply focus on strengthening our inherent competitiveness.
Third, that henceforth, she would be willing to submit herself and executives to public accountability. I say henceforth because I think it’s too late in the day to make amends for the fertilizer, ZTE, and other scandals. But I doubt if the people would be as forgiving or uncaring if another scandal, one dated after the ZTE scandal happened, were to break the surface of our fragile national life. We’re a people renowned for having short-term memory but that doesn’t mean we suffer from permanent amnesia. The ugly feelings caused by all the previous transgressions of this administration are festering under the surface all bound to break loose in far uglier ways at the slightest provocation.
While we are at it, it would be great if she seeks forgiveness from the people for previous prevarications and for utter failure to make things better for all so far. But she can commit to devote the last two years of her term in making sure that whoever succeeds her would have a better and easier time. These can only be done by putting in place the building blocks that would make corruption difficult to commit, government transactions more efficient, and our political systems less cumbersome and adversarial.
And finally, the President can make a pitch for collective responsibility; making a clean breast of things by admitting that she can’t do everything alone. She can finally level with the people and move the discourse beyond the usual appeal for collaboration. Magtulungan tayo just doesn’t hack it.
What we need are more concrete directives on what Congress can do (Peter Wallace, for example, suggested that she appeal to senators and congressmen to use their pork barrels in building more classrooms), she can appeal to businesses to pay the correct taxes, and empower the bureaucracy to cut red tape and impose non-negotiable deadlines for everything.
But like I said, the people have grown contemptuous of rhetorical discourses so an even better tack is to announce drastic action plans. She can convene a national crisis board to partner with her in finally making things happen. This is indulging in daydreaming but she can declare all Cabinet positions vacant and recruit business and civic leaders renowned for making things happen in their stead, including people who are critical of her administration. We certainly don’t lack competent and qualified people whose burning passion is simply to move this country forward; but they won’t join government unless the structures are free from vested political interests.
One of the apparent weaknesses of this administration is that the President is perceived to be hapless hostage by her many political debts, particularly from retired generals who occupy key Cabinet positions. Obviously, the country can’t move forward unless the Presidency is liberated from the shackles of political debts.
She can boldly declare today that she now considers all political debts fully paid—something that should have been done on Day One of her presidency. Some would consider this political suicide, but she can take comfort in the fact that the people have become more discerning today and are just as contemptuous of politicians who turn snitches. Cases in point are the fact that the credibility of former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and former speaker Jose de Venecia Sr. remain low.